To Timbuktu
by Mark Jenkins

“It is the small creatures that cripple and kill in Africa. The storybooks lie. Lions and leopards are insignificant. Viruses, amoebas, insects, worms, bullets, these are the predators of Africa.”

“African cabbies are frustrated race car drivers. They drive their clattertraps as fast as they will go. If you don't like it, there are three things you can do. Asking the driver to slow down is not one of them. He will take it as an insult, as proof that you are another arrogant foreigner who thinks he knows everything, and drive even faster.

“One. You can make the driver stop, take down your bags, and leave you alongside the road....

“Two. You can worry yourself sick....

“Three. You can forget about it, putting your trust in pure luck.

Traveling in developing countries you go through a natural progression You try the first two several times before you get to the last one and can relax.”

This book is several stories woven together. Jenkins tells about his recent voyage down the Niger river in kayaks with several friends. He also tells of an earlier African trip he took with one of his kayak mates. Finally, he tells of the many (mostly disastrous) attempts by early European explorers to travel to Timbuktu.

This book is quite readable, although surprisingly short given all of the stories the author has to tell. He skimps on descriptions: unlike most travel books, this one sticks with its three stories, and gives short shrift to describing the surroundings. The four guys who embark on this voyage don't come across as especially likable, which I guess means you have to give the author credit for honesty. Anyway, a good read -- I give it *** (out of ****).

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